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XR for Pharmaceutical Manufacturing by VRC

In the 4th installment of the XR Strategy Podcast by Voxel REVOLUTION, we introduce the newest member to our team, Rudra Trivedi and talk about what XR applications are making an impact in Pharmaceutical Manufacturing.

Here is the transcript of the video:

Thom: Hello everyone and welcome to the XR strategy podcast my name is Thom Strimbu and today we’re talking about XR in the pharmaceutical industry but first we’ve got a very exciting announcement. We’ve got a new member of the Voxel Revolution team and we’re joined with him here today Rudra Trivedi.  Rudra we’re glad have you on-board. You are joining us as the Regional Director of Operations for India. Welcome to the Team!

Rudra: Hi Thom. it’s an exciting thing for me as well so, thank you very much.

Thom: Your focus is specifically on immersive technology solutions to create value in the pharmaceutical manufacturing sector.  That’s a very defined target that you’re uniquely qualified for. Why don’t you share a bit about your background?

Rudra: Well, Yes, academically speaking I hold a masters in pharmacy where I specialised in pharmaceuticals. This area is called pharmaceutics which is the science of making medicines and I also holds an MBA from NMIMS University where I specialised in Pharmaceutical Technology Management. In the past I’ve worked in areas right from cancer therapy for colorectal cancer to helping pharmaceutical companies deploy AR and VR in manufacturing.

For the last year, I ran a startup in the area of E-sports in Hong Kong.  So, I would say that I have always been at the intersection of tech and pharma and now that pharma is finally embracing digital, I’m very excited to be joining VRC.

Thom: Well, I have to say, we’re very excited to have you! And with that, let’s get kicked off.  The question I have to get this rolling is: Our listeners might be curious to know where the opportunities are to implement immersive technology within their operations –  specifically within pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Rudra: Well, in pharmaceuticals one big area that XR is being adopted in is training employees in manufacturing units.  In the past, things were very simple; but now that we have bigger machines, things have become very complicated. As a result of this, training employees to use these complicated machines is also becoming very difficult.  What VR has done is that it has enabled pharmaceutical companies to train their employees in a simple yet very immersive and engaging way. As a result, employees start learning their training sessions effectively.

Immersive Technology finds a home in life sciences

I recently worked with the pharmaceutical company who was building the entire manufacturing unit from scratch. All the machines were coming in from Italy and no one in the entire organisation knew anything about the equipment.  As a matter of fact, no one in the whole of India knew anything about this equipment because they were being brought in for the first time. So, that was a big Challenge for us.

The first set of people that got trained were taught by trainers from Italy. Then training the rest of the employees was going to be a challenge further down the road and that’s where VR helped a lot.  VR enabled us to create a virtual environment in which employees could use this equipment virtually before seeing it in person. In many cases, we’ve seen that there are reductions in on-the-job training time.  There have been reports stating that you could reduce on-the-job training time by almost 50% and this just adds to overall productivity.

Talking about a different area of training, XR can be applied is when you want to qualify your employees to go through a particular training environment to prepare for qualifications. This is important from the regulators perspective. Pharmaceuticals is one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world.  If you don’t follow the rules by-the-book, you end up being in a lot of trouble – paying fines sometimes in the millions of Dollars. All companies want to be safe and compliant with the rules and regulations that have been set by the government.

Governments want to know if you’re training employees well. Not only that, they want to know ‘What have you trained them for and how are they being trained?’.  Traditional methods just reading the entire training manual and then signing something that says I’ve read and understood it are no longer apply to the pharmaceutical industry.

Thom:  Of course, we’ve all been there where you got the ‘1200-page Facebook new Terms of Service Agreement’ and we just have to click “Agree” or “Disagree” and so; of course, you thoughtlessly click “Yes, I agree”.   It’s this binary choice and the result is that that it does not provide helpful information for management understand how you doing on a training and doesn’t meet the standards they have for the business.

Rudra: I completely agree with you. The analytics being provided by XR open up new opportunities.  Take for example, repurposing the same manual that you were using, the same model that you were using with your employees for training can now be used for screening new candidates for a position within your company.  You can simply have the candidate run through the simulation and see if they perform well in the virtual world and to see if they’re good for your company so that’s another application that’s opening up as a result of these immersive programs with analytics.

You know, there’s this last thing about training; using virtual environments is simply way more fun and engaging compared to traditional classroom settings where people just want to doze off at the end.

"Traditional methods of just reading the entire training manual and then signing something that says “Read and understood” are no longer adequate for the pharmaceutical industry."

- Rudra Trivedi

Thom: Yes, you’re talking about Gamification

Rudra: Yes, it’s something that’s catching on in pharmaceuticals.  Trainers want to start deploying something like gamification. As a matter of fact, this concept is actually moving into the physical world as well as the virtual world.   That said, it is a challenge for them to understand the real potential of XR at the moment because it’s new but, once they get some good use cases I think we’ll see wide scale adoption of gamification using XR across all Industries.

Thom:  I’d like to move on to a second example of where you see that immersive technology is making an impact in pharmaceutical manufacturing.

Rudra: I would say the second area is In the quality labs.  The quality labs are, in my opinion, the brain, heart, and soul of the pharmaceutical manufacturing unit. They are the most integral part of the entire pharmaceutical supply chain because they are responsible for ensuring that good quality and safe medicines get out to the patients.  As a result of this, there’s already a lot of pressure thats in a pharmaceutical quality lab. They have to follow a fixed protocol. They have to follow a fixed process. And, they have to use sophisticated equipment like HPLC’s and LCMS’s etc, which give them accurate and precise results.  As result of this, what we’ve seen is that when quality Labs start to adopt technology like XR, their work becomes much easier. We’ve seen companies like Roush Shawarma adopting head-mounted displays (HMD’s) and they’ve integrated this with their existing software so that now, you don’t need to reference a separate computer screen to find out what your next step in the process is going to be.  You can simply see it in your HMD. So as a result of this, not only is the whole process taking less time, it’s also becoming more precise and less error prone. Additionally, if errors are made, it’s easier to detect them down the line because they are being recorded by the head mounted displays.

Activites is like Root Cause Analysis or implementing corrective or preventative action is becoming easier.  This has, in the end, saved from several companies or has the potential to save pharmaceutical companies hundreds of millions of Dollars because a batch failure is something simply something that pharmaceutical manufacturing companies cannot afford at all.

Thom: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.  When talking about XR in the lab, we’re specifically talking about augmented reality right? Virtual Reality might be good for training where you don’t need to see your surroundings but, Augmented Reality is best in the lab environment where you need to stay engaged.  Most listeners have either tried Augmented Reality or have a good sense of how it works. Data is presented interactively into the user’s line of sight and in the lab that might be an SOP or, in a case where IOT-Connected devices exist, it might be something like the ‘elapsed time’ or ‘temperature’ projected on top of a piece of equipment. This is extremely helpful because, for operators not having to leave your station for critical pieces of information saves time.  And then, the ease of access prevents accidents – not to mention that it’s all hands free!

Rudra:  also yes one big thing that in a pharmaceutical quality lab the more hands the merrier I would say so people actually we’re having a third hand but the fact that with a are you have two hands that are completely free and not in use on your tablet or computer is actually a game changer it’s helping a lot of technicians and operators become more productive as the days pass by.

Thom:  There’s one other technology I wanted to mention, and it’s directly relevant to the lab but it can also have an impact across the broader organization and that’s Remote Expert (also sometimes called Remote Collaboration).  If you’ve never heard of it, I’ll refer to you to a company called UtilityAR or if you’re in the United States you can look at ScopeAR and their product, Worklink.  Basically the concept is that there are AR glasses that have an outward looking video camera.  If you encounter a problem you need assistance with, you can call for help and share the video feed with a distant expert.

We can use a really generic example:  Say a device in your lab is not functioning properly.  You might typically hop on the phone with the IT department or perhaps the vendor for help. They could be in the next building or they could be halfway around the world.  With Remote Expert, basically the operator initiates a video call from their AR glasses that the vendor can view through a secure platform on their own laptop. Now, rather than hopping on a plane, he’s able to guide the operator through the diagnostic process remotely.  Unlike a traditional video call, he can draw spatial annotations on his screen that show up right in the line of sight of the operator.

Imagine a situation where somebody is trying remotely to guide you between cutting the “blue-wire with the white-stripe” or the “white-wire with the blue-stripe” – with AR glasses they can just draw an arrow pointing to the correct place and say “cut THAT wire” and remove all confusion.

Rudra: So, Remote Expert is something that is very very exciting especially for the pharmaceutical manufacuturing industry because, not only is it important to keep your lab sterile and clean and have as few people as possible, but there’s this other aspect that nowadays there’s a particular process that needs to be followed and it’s been transferred from a lab perhaps in Switzerland to someone in the USA.  In order to do this, traditionally, the person with the entire process would have flown to the US from Switzerland and trained everyone. Now, with the Remote Expert tool kit, the trainer can stay in Switzerland and teach the people in the US remotely. So, that’s another example of an area where Remote Expert has been able to save a lot of cost for pharmaceutical companies.

Thom:  Yeah! Absolutely.  Well, Rudra, I’ve appreciated the talk.  You’ve started off with a bang and if I wasn’t convinced before I definitely am now that you are the right guy for the job.  So, let’s wrap this up today. I wonder if you could leave us with some takeaways

Rudra:  The first area would be, Educate yourself.  Know what the tech is all about.  Know what XR is about. Have a hands-on experience with the technology and get your leadership on board.  Ensure that you are actually making it clear to your site leadership team that this is a game-changing technology that if adopted can create some real-time impact in the bottom line. Get some cases of where this technology has been adopted. I feel that that is where our role comes in – that Voxel REVOLUTION Consulting’s 4-step process really helps.  Starting with the XR experience, we really help pharmaceutical manufacturing companies establish their understanding of XR.

Thom: I couldn’t agree more.  And that’s where we’ll have to leave it.  Thank you very much for listening today. I hope we’ve opened up the topic of XR in Pharmaceutical Manufcaturing.  If you’d like to know more, you can go to http://voxelrevolution.com . I’m Thom Strimbu, we’ll catch you next time.